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Classical Naṣṣ Doctrines in Imāmī Shīʿism: On the Usage of an Expository Term

This article reexamines the use of the term naṣs, which since Marshall Hodgson has been used in modern historiography to refer to an indigenous Shīʿī mechanism of succession to the imamate.

An alternative thesis is proposed here which situates the origins of the term in Shīʿī usage over the 8th to 11th centuries within the scholarly discourses of kalām and uṣūl al-fiqh. From the perspective of theological hermeneutics, classical Imāmī naṣṣ doctrines valorized revelatory specification (naṣṣ) of authority to the exclusion of opinion and interpretive effort (ijtihād). As is shown here, the elaboration of these doctrines was historically predicated on an attempt to explain the Shīʿī imamate as a solution to the problem of epistemological uncertainty in Islamic scholarship. This is illustrated with reference to Sunnī, Muʿtazilite, Zaydī, Imāmī, and Ismāʿīlī literature, documenting the earliest usage of the term naṣṣ within a broader intellectual milieu than has hitherto been the case.

Within the historiography of Shīʿism, the doctrine of naṣṣ has been a mainstay of scholarly discussion since Hodgson’s treatment of the topic in an influential 1955 article. Hodgson argued there that belief in the imamate being “transferred from one to another by explicit designation, naṣṣ,” had been adopted by Muḥammad Bāqir (d. 114/733) or Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765) in the early 2nd/8th century and imbued Imāmī Shīʿism with its distinctive sectarian character. This view has since been adopted by a number of historians, and found widespread currency, despite the fact that no extant source is to be found for any of the Shīʿite imams using the term naṣs in this manner. Other historians of Shīʿism, though more circumspect about pinpointing the historical origins of the doctrine, still treat naṣṣ much the same: as a term denoting a mechanism of succession in broader Imāmī doctrine and sacred history. Thus within the purview of Shīʿite studies, naṣṣ has tended not to move beyond Hodgson’s description of an idiosyncratic term native to early Shīʿism to describe the appointment of an imam….

Bibliographic Information

Title: Classical Naṣṣ Doctrines in Imāmī Shīʿism: On the Usage of an Expository Term

Author(s):  Rodrigo Adem

Published in: Shii Studies Review

 Language: English

Length: 30 pages

Classical Naṣṣ Doctrines in Imāmī Shīʿism On the Usage of an Expository Term

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